×
Back to IndieWire

End of an Era: The Highs and Lows of The CW

We're looking back at "Gossip Girl," "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," and more shows that defined the network.

(Clockwise from bottom-left): "Arrow," "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," "Riverdale," "The Vampire Diaries," and "Kung Fu"

The End of an Era at The CW (clockwise from bottom-left): “Arrow,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Riverdale,” “The Vampire Diaries,” and “Kung Fu”

Everett Collection

If Jared Pedalecki and Jensen Ackles were the heartthrobs of The CW, Mark Pedowitz was its heartbeat.

When Nexstar announced its completed acquisition of (75 percent of) The CW on Monday, it installed board member Dennis Miller, a venture capitalist with executive stints at Sony, Lionsgate, and Turner, as the broadcast network’s new president. Pedowitz, who was chairman and CEO of the youth-skewing broadcast network for the past 11 years is out; he’ll stay in the game via the revival of his former production company.

Though The CW never quite soared like so many of its DC superheroes, the decade-plus under Pedowitz had its moments — and its misses. IndieWire looks back on both below.

With additional reporting by Erin Strecker, Christian Blauvelt, Ben Travers, and Kristen Lopez.

The UPN Holdovers

"Everybody Hates Chris" and "Veronica Mars"

“Everybody Hates Chris” and “Veronica Mars”

Everett Collection

As Time Warner launched the CW, it joined with CBS to shut down the United Paramount Network, which ran from 1995 to 2006. The reshuffling between these companies led to select UPN shows moving to the CW: “America’s Next Top Model,” “Veronica Mars, “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Moesha” spinoff “Girlfriends,” “All of Us,” and “WWE SmackDown!” Essentially, the CW replaced both the WB and UPN with its combined programming. “Girlfriends” closed out the final two years of its eight-year run, while “Veronica Mars” concluded its three-season arc before Hulu’s 2019 revival. —PK

The WB Holdovers

"One Tree Hill"

“One Tree Hill”

Everett Collection

The CW got off to a rough start, but popular WB legacy series brought viewers back and created strong audience base for the future. “7th Heaven” aired its eleventh and final season; “Beauty and the Geek” its second and final; “Gilmore Girls” its highly contentious seventh and final season without creator Amy Sherman-Palladino; “Reba” its sixth and final. “One Tree Hill” and “Supernatural” both started on WB, but spent far longer on the CW, while Alfred Gough and Miles Millar’s 10-season “Smallville” split its time between the old and new network. While many of these are now remembered as CW shows, they got their start on WB and weren’t guaranteed a place on the new network — but CW fans will always be thankful that they did.  —PK

Formative 2000s TV: The “Gossip Girl” Era

"Gossip Girl"

“Gossip Girl”

Everett Collection

Most pop culture is formed by young women, whether that’s the rise of pop music or the formative television shows of The CW. In addition to “7th Heaven” and “Gilmore Girls,” the network pivoted to please this demographic along with the rise of reality television in the mid-2000s. The CW followed suit to become a channel for young women who wanted glitz and glamor, a post-“OC” existence that had shades of “Gilmore” fantasy but upped the sex and privilege. Adapted from Cecily von Ziegasar’s books, “Gossip Girl” changed everything with its bevy of beautiful young things tearing it up in New York City. The fashion was impeccable, the storylines akin to the likes of ‘80s shows aimed at adults (the same can be said of “Dynasty”). It made The CW fun and cool — and made huge stars of its young cast, which included Blake Lively. And while other shows might have tried to differentiate from “Gossip Girl,” — the network’s long-running series “One Tree Hill,” for example — it still always had an uptick of sexiness to it. —KL

The Arrowverse (2012-present)

Arrowverse creator Greg Berlanti at a screening for "Arrow" and "The Flash"

Greg Berlanti at a screening for “Arrow” and “The Flash.”

Getty Images

Before Marvel’s Disney+ series roster, before “Daredevil” on Netflix, there was “Arrow.” Stephen Amell starred as Oliver Queen a.k.a. Green Arrow, a lesser known billionaire playboy from DC comics who fights crime with a bow and arrow. The show’s success quickly spawned “The Flash” with Grant Gustin, “Legends of Tomorrow” with characters from both, “Supergirl,” “Black Lightning,” “Batwoman,” and various animated and live-action web series as well as epic crossover events. Creator Greg Berlanti’s name is all but synonymous with this sprawling superhero franchise, which he executed with the help of Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg, Geoff Johns, Ali Adler, Phil Klemmer, Alim Akil, Caroline Dries, and Todd Helbing. Only “The Flash” remains on the air after various cancellations, and allegations from Ruby Rose about a toxic work environment on “Batwoman” (and a statement from Warner Bros. that her on-set behavior was unprofessional). The Arrowverse may be largely in the rearview, but we’ll always have those early years Starling City and the thrill of a musical crossover. —PK

“Supernatural” (2005-2020)

"Supernatural"

“Supernatural”

Everett Collection

Though it aired for one year on the WB, perhaps no show is as synonymous with the fan base and ethos of the CW as Eric Kripke’s “Supernatural.” Brothers Dean and Sam Winchester (Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki) team up to hunt (and sometimes befriend) all kinds of paranormal creatures. The series, originally planned for three seasons, concluded at a whopping 15 as the longest-running live-action fantasy TV show of all time. Though the ratings never climbed back to their Season 1 heights, it averaged viewers consistently in the millions, and was one of the first shows to gain a robust online fandom, particularly in the Tumblr era of the early aughts. The series spawned multiple spinoffs, including “Ghostfacers” with A.J. Buckley and Travis Wester, an anime series in Japan, “Bloodlines,” which was ultimately not picked up, and more. “The Winchesters,” a prequel series about Sam and Dean’s parents, premieres on October 11, with Ackles narrating and executive producing. —PK

“The Beautiful Life” (2009)

"The Beautiful Life"

“The Beautiful Life”

The CW

Throwing beautiful young people into ridiculous situations didn’t always work out, however: “The Beautiful Life” aired just two episodes back in 2009 before it was canceled. Starring Mischa Barton post-”The OC” as well as Nico Tortorella pre-”Younger,” the Ashton Kutcher-producer drama was to center on a bunch of working models all living together. The show will also be remembered for the at-the-time new idea to stream the episodes on YouTube as well as broadcast airing. The lack of buzz spelled doom, but it was an example of the big swings a scrappy network can take. —ES

“The Vampire Diaries” (2009-2017)

"The Vampire Diaries"

“The Vampire Diaries”

Everett Collection

Six years after “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was laid to rest at UPN, Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec’s “The Vampire Diaries” raised the bloodthirsty subgenre with the surprisingly witty and seductive story of a teenage girl ensnared in a centuries-old vampire saga in the small town of Mystic Falls. Star Nina Dobrev already had a sizable fanbase thanks to her role on “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” but “The Vampire Diaries” proved an even better showcase of her sparkling talents.

Opposite Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder as vampire brothers Stefan and Damon Salvatore, Dobrev played not only protagonist Elena Gilbert, but also her vampiric doppelgänger Katherine Pierce for six seasons before exiting the series. Though it failed to fully recover from the loss of its star, “The Vampire Diaries” conjured up a host of successful spinoff series at The CW, including “The Originals” from 2013 to 2018 and “Legacies” from 2018 to its finale in summer 2022 with more projects reportedly in the works. —AF

“Whose Line is it Anyway?” (2013-present)

"Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

“Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

The CW

Warner Bros. Television’s beloved late night improv jam moved to the CW in 2013, where it remains and will return for its upcoming 19th season. After a six year hiatus, the show returned with Aisha Tyler as host (taking over for Drew Carey), and returning stars Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles, and Wayne Brady along with a rotation of guests. There is immense comfort in watching these comedians play games like “Scenes from a Hat” and improvised musical numbers in largely the same format as the show’s 1998 debut (and U.K. original) — especially when you look at the range of CW shows since its inception; the mere existence of “Riverdale” is the greatest testament to how everything in this world is made up and the points don’t matter. —PK

“The Carrie Diaries” (2013-2014)

"The Carrie Diaries"

“The Carrie Diaries”

Everett Collection

Before “Sex and the City” got busy tap-dancing around Samantha’s disappearance in “And Just Like That,” Amy B. Harris dazzled with a high school dramedy set in ’80s Connecticut. AnnaSophia Robb took over the role of Carrie Bradshaw from Sarah Jessica Parker, playing her instead as a yet-to-be-self-actualized fashion intern community into New York City and falling head over heels for the metropolitan life.

Though the show made it just two seasons before its cancelation — successfully introducing Lindsey Gort as Samantha, but stopped short of casting Miranda and Charlotte — its loving adaption of author Candace Bushnell’s YA novel of the same name earned a cult following. It’s cast boasts Austin Butler, Ellen Wong, Katie Findlay, Chloe Bridges, and more vibrant talents that imbue Harris’ aged-down story with the same sparkling verve as Darren Star’s original HBO smash. —AF

Critically Acclaimed Awards Darlings: “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (2015-2019) and “Jane the Virgin” (2014-2019)

"Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" and "Jane the Virgin"

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “Jane the Virgin”

Everett Collection

Over the years, The CW’s original programming shifted slightly from genre to genre, demo to demo, but its status as an awards contender never really materialized — even when plenty of critics and viewers argued it should. Inheriting an unfriendly Emmys legacy (thanks to The WB and UPN’s typically ignored shows), The CW saw a smattering of awards attention for “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Supernatural,” and “The Flash,” among others, but what Mark Pedowitz was building wasn’t meant to compete with the era’s rising cable and streaming giants.

Until the one-two punch of “Jane the Virgin” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Jennie Snyder Urman’s genre-bending telenovela earned early and consistent praise — enough to for the freshman season to win a Peabody and a People’s Choice Award, not to mention nominations from the TCAs, Gotham Awards, and more (including key wins from a once-prominent organization that really won’t be mentioned). Over the first two seasons, Anthony Mendez even pulled two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Narrator — but those proved to be the series’ only recognition from the TV Academy.

In 2015, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” did one better. Rachel Bloom’s debut season won two Emmys — for Single-Camera Picture Editing and Choreography — in addition to two more nominations. While the Emmys never elevated the beloved cult comedy among its Best Series nominees, “CEG” went on to win four total trophies out of eight nominations — no small feat for a low-rated CW series in the crowded TV landscape of the late 2010s.

While The CW never topped the awards performance of these two shows over these few years, that the network supported artistic ambitions this dynamic and exciting, while still churning out Netflix hits and buzzy teen dramas, is yet another feather in the cap of the network’s outgoing CEO. —BT

“Riverdale” (2017-present)

"Riverdale"

“Riverdale”

Everett Collection

“Kung Fu” (2021- Present)

"Kung Fu"

“Kung Fu”

Everett Collection

Creator Christina M. Kim steered this contemporary reboot of the 1970s show, giving it just the right blend of mystery-box storytelling and character development reminiscent of another show on which she worked: “Lost.” It also updated the original “Kung Fu” in a number of key ways; for one, having an actual Chinese-American lead in Olivia Liang and a largely Asian cast, and setting it in the present day. It also gender flips the lead role: Liang’s Nicky is a Harvard Law dropout who studied at a Shaolin temple in China and fights both villains-of-the-week and bigger threats related to the special destiny of her family. It’s a show that does a lot but balances it all with ease: Nicky may be fighting to collect mystical weapons as if they were infinity stones, then there’ll be a deeply moving scene where her brother (Jon Prasida) comes out to their father (Tzi Ma). A landmark of representation, this new “Kung Fu” shows The CW’s ability to mine older material for a new audience. —CB

(Left to right): Gina Rodriguez, Mark Pedowitz, Rachel Bloom

(Left to right): Gina Rodriguez, Mark Pedowitz, and Rachel Bloom

Mark Davis/Getty Images

“It’s been an honor to serve as the Chairman and CEO of The CW Network for the last 11 years and I am very proud of what our exceptional teams have accomplished together over that time,” Pedowitz said in a statement on Monday. “It was the right moment for me to hand over the leadership baton and I am excited to move on to the next chapter of my professional career where I can pursue a different set of interests. I am confident Perry, Sean, Dennis and the Nexstar team’s ability to usher in the next phase of growth and success for the CW Network and look forward to supporting them during the transition period.”

Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount Global retain 12.5 percent stakes in The CW, which was originally a joint venture between CBS and Warners. The CW launched in 2006 after The WB and UPN went under. Pedowitz replaced the network’s first head of entertainment, Dawn Ostroff, in 2011.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Television and tagged , ,


Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox